Tom Cunliffe has assessed hundreds of sailors for the RYA Yachtmaster exam. He shares a few skipper's tips with us...

What’s he saying?

Skipper's tips

It’s crucial to avoid confusion in fog. If there’s anything out there, it will be almost upon you before you see it

When you’re caught out sailing in fog, as we all are occasionally, it’s worth posting an extra lookout on the bow in areas of traffic or where buoys or other hazards are anticipated. But you must ensure communication is crystal-clear.

If you’re up forward and you see something, it’s no use shouting at the fog. Remember there may well be an engine running and unless you turn and show the helmsman your ugly mug, he won’t hear you.

Should the lookout opt to point, as well he may aboard a larger yacht, get it clear whether the direction indicated is where danger lies or the way the helmsman must turn – fast. Things happen rapidly in fog. A few seconds of confusion can be all it takes to spoil your day.

Look to the laundry lady

Skipper's tips

You’ll find many uses for a wire coat hanger on a boat – not least unblocking limber holes

Last week, a pal and I had to clear a limber hole deep in the bilge of his long-keeled boat. I’m blessed with the sort of arm length normally dished out to the British Standard Gorilla, but not even I could get near it. After 10 minutes poking around with a long screwdriver to no avail, I asked if there was, by chance, an old wire coat hanger on board. By good fortune, my mate’s blazer was just back from the dry cleaners, still in its plastic bag with the usual stiff wire hanger. We nobbled this, mangled it into a two-foot straight length and bent a three-inch angle onto the end. Down it went, wiggle-wiggle, then straight through the hole. The bilge water flowed like the Waters of Jordan.

Never go to sea without one of these free items. For the ingenious sailor, there is no end to the problems they can solve, and if you can’t find one in the laundry bin, try the Internet – a dozen for the price of a pint!

You only need FOUR fenders!

Skipper's tips

This boat is managing fine with only two fenders, although one needs a bit of air!

For the last 12 years until I bought my new boat, I sailed the seas in a 22-ton gaff cutter. In all that time I never had more than four fenders on board. They were big, they had good lanyards, they could be slung up-and-down or fore-and-aft, and I never needed more. Three proper fenders carefully spaced along the fattest part of a yacht that’s secured so she doesn’t sheer around are all that’s needed. The fourth is ready for unwelcome boarders on the outside – who are, of course, obliged to supply their own fenders in the end – or as backup for when a gale howls in and blows you straight on. Think about it. All that clutter hanging off the stern or filling lockers, and all that needless extra work, to say nothing of the whack in the wallet!

Mark the slings

Skipper's tips

This sling isn’t crushing the transducer – but it’s a very close call. A mark 6in further aft would remove all doubt next time

The ideal sailing boat has nothing sticking out to interrupt water flow, but most cruisers have impellers, ‘P’-brackets, transducers and who knows what else, just waiting to catch the sling of a boat hoist and get wrecked in the process. There’s nothing like a 5-ton load for bending a prop shaft! Mark your toerail where the slings should go next time you’re hauled out, or at least make a note in the logbook along the lines of, ‘forward sling just abaft second stanchion from the pulpit’.